Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Do those of you older than kids remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? If you still don’t know, that’s all right.
When you figure out what you’re going to do with your life, even what you’re doing with later today, it affects everything else you do. If you want to be a doctor when you grow up, you better work hard at science and math. If you want to be a musician, you need to practice for hours and hours and if you want to be in religious life, you better pray a lot. If you want to be a priest or religious, you need to pray a lot. Actually, praying a lot is a good idea anyway, no matter what you want to be. Our future impacts what we do today.
The first reading today comes from a time when the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. They had seen their kingdom destroyed and they had been taken forcibly to a land far away to be people at the bottom of the heap. They were at a faith crisis: in those days war was seen as a reflection of the combat of the gods and if your country lost a war it was because your god lost a war in heaven. The people of Israel didn’t really think like that, but they wondered why their God had turned on them so completely. They had been wrong; they had forgotten who they were and pursued many ideas that were incompatible with who they were. They needed refocusing. And this reading, which is the beginning of Handel’s Messiah, is a reading of hope: a reminder to what their destiny was.
It was reassurance that God still loved them. It was a promise that they would be returned to the land that God had given them; that their punishment was ending and that they had another chance. It told them that they didn’t have to give in to the pressures around them: they didn’t have to become Babylonians and take up the Babylonian gods and way of life. It told them that if they waited a little longer, all of their dreams would be fulfilled, and that promise was reason to organize their lives then.
This kind of hope is the same kind of hope that John the Baptist talked about on the banks of the Jordan River. The people of his time were struggling with a lot of different pressures, this time from Greek culture and the Roman empire. The main pressure was to sell out to the dominant culture; to embrace the ideals of the Empire and live a life that depended on the strong dominating the weak. It was a culture of the golden rule, you know, whoever has the gold makes the rules. It was a situation where the much of the leadership of the people wanted to give in to the demands of the Romans in order to preserve their own authority. If you we’re part of the working classes, you were supposed to work hard and not cause trouble.
John reminded the people of their future: of the coming of the Messiah. John reminded the people that the world was going to change, and that things were not going to keep happening the same way they always had been. John reminded people that coming of the Messiah was the coming of justice into the world, meaning that things were going to be put right. It meant that weak were not going to be subjugated by the strong; that the rich were not going to own the poor. The coming of the Jesus into the world changed everything: in time, it even took over the Empire that tried to exterminate it.
John’s faith was amazing. People were coming to him, people such as tax collectors and prostitutes and others who were far away from God, and they were listening to his message. Yet John didn’t know when the Messiah was coming, or what he’d look like, or what it would mean for him and the people he knew exactly. But he went forward in faith, kept doing what he was doing while he may have wondered what was coming next.
What is our future? Is that a crazy question? What is our future? Our future is to be with God, forever. We have been claimed through Christ; we belong to him. In the end, God wins, Jesus wins, we win. Anything that looks like a great combat is a struggle that is not in doubt: it’s a sure bet. Justice will triumph; the kingdom of God is coming in its fullness. How does our lives reflect that? How much do we live with that expectation? Does that future shape who we are today, how we see things, how we treat one another? We’re going to be together forever with Jesus, how does that affect what we do today?
Folks might say: “Well, that’s in the future, we don’t have to worry about that now. In the end, everything will be made up, so I don’t have to worry about now. I can do what I want.”
But the kingdom of God is not totally in the future. The Messiah is already here. The banquet feast of the kingdom of heaven is already begun, and we’re a part of it. Today we come together to be part of our future, to share a meal that we will spend eternity with. We come together to share the body of Christ, to become the Body of Christ. What does that have to say about who we are now and what we’re doing now? If we are part of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of justice, how does that affect who we treat one another today.
We all know what we’re going to be when we grow up. It’s all around us: the kingdom of God is already breaking into our world. It’s up to us to get ready, to let that reality affect what we’re up to today. As Christians, we are called to hear the voice of John and to live today in light of what our tomorrows will be.